Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Obligatory New Year's Post

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more

~ In My Life, The Beatles

I am not one for quoting Beatles' lyrics even though I love so many of their songs, sung by other people, but this one has been in my head for a bit. This post is about loss. 2010 was a difficult year. So many things up and went. And not that I didn't see them coming or even invite some of them in, but endings are hard no matter who you are.

I've always fancied myself as being good with change - but I am not. I fear it. I try to pretend it is great, fine, necessary, helping me evolve. But secretly I curl up into a ball and die a little every time. Often feeling overwhelmed but not able to heal myself at that moment so I "DO" whatever needs to get done and I put on a happy face. And I can only do that for so long, usually as long as I need to to get through the transition period, and then I fall. I retreat to bed, to writing, to sadness, to somewhere so I can heal a bit and then I attack the feelings and work through them. This process can be unproductive in real life and so I have back-burnered feelings of "change fear" and loss for decades! Because there is of course, laundry. And a lot of that is self-preservation because dealing with the pain at the moment would have been overwhelming and also utterly useless because I don't know what I am feeling immediately. What Kubler-Ross stage of grief I am in.

Right at this moment, with pretty much every loss I had this year, I am in a place of acceptance. Knowing full well that at any moment I can instantly be plunged back into anger. That is the risk of being alive and human. And I considered going through and enumerating my losses but I don't think there is any need for that. I have written and cried myself out on them. Suffice it to say that they did not kill me - so obviously they made me stronger.

I have been feeling optimistic about the coming year. Even though my personal new year and sequence of change, starts back in August, I think 2011 will be a good time. Initial fears of moving away and on are gone. I have settled into my new surroundings and am developing an action plan for the next step. And I am being honest with others and most importantly myself and the kids when things are not going well. And that is ultimately all we can do - the best we can in each moment.

Bits of melancholy still exist. And anger and frustration. But through all of that I remember that there is sun, there is warmth, there are chocolate chip cookies! So I am giving myself patience and affection this coming year. Gifts to me. And there is always the next second, the next breath to make another choice. Like right now - I am going to say good bye to you all and go and wash my dishes.

As always I wish you love, tribe.

Happy New Year!

in peace,

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Draw Close and Know That I am G-d

Last June I wrote a post about intimacy and my quest to have it in my life in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling. And Jessica responded to that post with an incredibly thoughtful comment, here is part of it: there is some spiritual practice in learning how to become very close to the other.

There is also always some skein of self wrapped up in the other, a self that appears only when the other is present, even in our imagination.

Oh, my mind and heart have been walking circles around this one for months now. Finally seeing a glimpse of clarity today. That is the way enlightenment works, I am told. It comes in glimpses and snatches of clarity. Never all at once. And certainly never staying permanently because of course there is laundry.

But building intimacy IS a spiritual practice. It does require you to go and meet yourself and trust in something greater than your eyes can glimpse all at once. And even those of us who claim to not hold true to a G-d or any spiritual practice - we do this. We open our hearts to another, to an idea, to a path of life. We let G-d in we just call it something else. And that is fine. Not trying to convince the atheists that there is a G-d in their ontology because they love their children or their work (I am looking at you Karen Carr).

This is the moment where I whip out a definition from Wikipedia. We in academia do that - we look for other people's thoughts to back up our own. Perhaps if enough people have had the same thought then ours is legitimate. Not going to do it. I am going to stand firm on my own definition of spirituality - a connecting, communing, fellowship with something outside of or within ourselves that requires us to trust or believe without proof in it and in possibility. Now, that also sounds like faith and I posit that those two things cannot exist without each other. Intrinsic parts of the other's definition.

Where did all the "deepness" suddenly come from you may ask? Well my obligatory New Year's Post will be about good-byes. I can't help it. But on the road to good-bye I started thinking about all the ways and moments I have said hello. When you are at the end of things it is hard to remember the good times, the giddy times, the lack of sleep staying up all night talking times, and love times. When you go through darkness it is hard to remember if the light exists. You have to work at it. Be conscious of saying to yourself every moment - there is light - I know I have seen it. You start to believe that you have never seen the sun and not only that but that there is no sun. You believe that you will never be happy again. That you will never feel love again - and that maybe, just maybe, you never felt it in the first place. Your mind plays tricks on you. That is when you must go past your mind into some place deeper. Some place quieter and some place that won't lie to you. That is when you have to trust. To believe in something that you CANNOT see in this one moment. I will be happy again - because I was happy before. I will see the sun again - because I know it exists, I have seen it before, I have felt its warmth. That is when you have to draw close and know that you are G-d - that you are creating your personal reality right at that moment - and it can be "heaven" or it can be "hell."

This last year has been difficult for a lot of people that I know and love. Me included! I realized it most clearly when I re-read my Facebook status updates from the last year. Separately - not too bad. Collectively - overwhelmingly sad. And I was quite sure that I would never see the sun again on many days. This day included. But I know joy.

My wedding day when I arrived beside Ilya with tears in my eyes and he reached in his pocket and said, "Here, I got you some tissues because I thought you might cry." And proceeded to dry my tears.
The moment I found out about each of my pregnancies
The birth of each child
My first professional directing review
The first time I taught a class
The first student who said, "Thank you."
When someone I deeply respected said to me: "Keisha you are a good director, but you are a gifted teacher."
Every time my kid's make a joke or someone tells me what extraordinary souls they are
Sharing a joke with my sister
Looking at the strength and beauty of my mother
Listening to music
Being warm

So many moments - we all have them. And some are huge and some are so tiny. Our beginnings. Our joy. And for someone like me who searches for highs and liminality and ecstasy in her living - it is important to remember these moments. I must keep them up front and close so that when the bad stuff shows up I am reminded that yes, "This too shall pass."

So, thank you Jessica. There is some spiritual practice in learning to be close to the other. To take the risk of looking foolish. To say what you feel and how you feel it. In my previous post on intimacy I said I wanted to know how to have that kind of intimacy. And I recognized that I would have to take the steps toward the other and not just stand there waiting for them to recognize me. We all play the game of what is appropriate and how should we act. Well, my resolution that I have been working on since my birthday (my New Year) is to live my life with reckless love. To let people know, in real time, with realness, that I love them. That I care for them and that I want to hear their heartbeat. They may get it. They may run away screaming. But I will have said it and meant it. To have more love in my life and more moments where I see that if I am G-d, I am going to have to be G-dlike (and I am thinking mostly Gospel of John, New Testament G-d with some Psalms thrown in there!)

Seeking out the best moments and the best interactions for when I am my best self. And yes, all of this is incredibly selfish and self-interested. In an effort to save what is left of myself I am going to try something new - loving. There will be regret and pain and the inevitable - well, that sucked. But I see the coming evolution as my time to go after what it is I say I want. To really embrace my spiritual practice and to live my life without fear.

The next post will be my obligatory New Year's Post and because I have to I will reflect on all that I lost this past year. And there was so much that I lost. But in an effort to pick myself up like Humpty Dumpty could not be, I am going to smooth my heart down and get on with it. Join me on the other side, or just be an interested observer.

in peace tribe,

title from a poem by Jessica Fenlon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oh, the Indigo Girls!

I think perhaps my most profound Facebook status update EVER was this:
Anything worth saying has already been said by the Indigo Girls.
I stand by that statement.

A few years ago I had cancer. I don't have cancer anymore but I kept taking some of the medications that I began during that illness. And I realized a couple of weeks ago that it was time to move on. The one medication left with me from those days is Paxil, an anti-anxiety medication. I took a lot of meds during the hardest parts of the time, mostly pain and anti-nausea meds as well as some anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds and mood stabilizers - also known in my CA circle as: No-more-crazy-housewife-medication. But about a year after getting through cancer, and still physically recovering from the chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, my lovely husband and I decide to get a divorce. Now one might think, that is probably not the right time to go off of those anti-medications. And you would be right. My psychiatrist at the time was adamant that I stay on the meds to help ease the transition from being married to being separated. She was probably right. But one night in the middle of all of this I forgot to take the Paxil. And then I forgot again and then I forgot again and then all hell broke loose. I was nauseous, dizzy, in pain and crying uncontrollably. I hadn't been that crazy before I took the medicines. Ilya lovingly went to the internet and told me that I had "Paxil withdrawal", WTF? For real? Withdrawal symptoms from the medication that was supposed to make me feel less anxious. I was so sick that I vowed NEVER to forget to take Paxil again.

Well, that didn't last and I again forgot to take the Paxil since it was the only medication I was taking along with my "vitamins" it was easy to forget. And then the withdrawal. I felt chained, literally, to this medication. Like it was it or me. And it was winning by a long shot! Well, last month I went to refill the-ole Paxil prescription and the pharmacist told me it was $90. Ummm, excuse me? Yes, your husband's insurance has changed and the medication price has gone up as a result. Hmmm, let me see, feed my kids or take the Paxil? I got the Paxil because I was so terrified of the results of not taking it. Afraid of the medication that was supposed to make me feel better. I stopped taking the Paxil two weeks ago after reading up (on the internet, of course) about how long the side effects would last and even how long it would take me to gradually come off of it (3 months, by the way, which translates to $270). So, I just stopped taking it. Told my doctors and didn't let them talk me out of it. Yup, I am dizzy, nauseous, and constantly crying. And then this morning I woke up a little less dizzy, a little less sad and I remembered the Indigo Girls:

up on the watershed
standing at the fork in the road
you can stand there and agonize
till your agony's your heaviest load
you'll never fly as the crow flies
get used to a country mile
when you're learning to face
the path at your pace
every choice is worth your while

stepping on a crack
breaking up and looking back
til every tree limb overhead just seems to sit and wait
til every step you take becomes a twist of fate
~ Watershed

This has always been one of my favorite songs - and anyone who knew me at Lawrence freshman year knew every word to this song whether they liked it or not! But my (and I cannot pick one, it would be like picking a favorite child, which I can only do on certain days!) favorite lyric is this:

Every five years or so I look back on my life and have a good laugh

Remembering one of the next lines:
But ending up where I started again makes me wanna stand still.

Not this time.

And I realized another thing, so much has changed. So much of my life is not the same as I tried to sing this song the way I did when I was 20 and my voice cracked and gave out on me, reminding me that yea, I don't have that vocal chord anymore. But would I change the Keisha standing here in all of her bruised, saggy, cut, hurt, joyful, triumphant-glory for the Keisha of 20 years ago? No. Simply. This one is so incredibly beautiful.

When you're learning to face the path at your pace, every choice is worth your while.

Thanks Amy and Emily.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

For Kare O' the Mountains

i love you
i love you
i love you

This is about the darkness that surrounds us and finding light in the midst of it. I can often find less than concrete things to hold onto when I am sad. Ideas. Concepts. The stuff of four years of liberal arts college. But in the midst of that four years of college-ing I met someone who altered my perception. Who altered my world view. If only she knew.

When I first met Karen I did not like her. Stop, I have already told her this truth. I was young, she was young and we were both hard-headed and convinced that our world view was the "truth." Learning later the true relativity of truth brought us together. Karen and I bumped heads in a Religious Studies class. A moment that escaped her but stuck in my craw for over 20 years, seriously. But Grace is brilliant in Its existence. That moment stuck with me. Why, there were a whole bunch of people I didn't get a long with in college whose names and faces I have long since forgotten. Not Karen. Somewhere in the future we were to meet again and Grace would soften my heart and open my eyes enough to embrace my love of this extraordinary woman.

Facebook - yes, of course. Karen and I somehow got reconnected and found verisimilitude. And along with her she brought a reconnection with other loves from my past and people I had managed to walk past for four years and never really "see." Thank you Grace.

This post is about the darkness. The winter is hard on all of us who live in the northern hemisphere, perhaps even those who live in the southern hemisphere but I don't know any of them personally! We get dark and somber and miss the sun and are not quite sure what to do to keep our spirits up and our outlook positive. Even our food gets heavier. Our bodies somehow crumple up underneath darkness' weight and we hide ourselves beneath coats, hoodies, blankets, bad moods and depression. It helps to keep a light in the window to welcome our true selves back home. Karen is my light this winter. I think of the 20+ years that I was without her wisdom, her smile, her warmth, her lessons, her courage, her. And I am hopeful that I can make it through the next three months. Look at the gift given to me after all that time.
Life brings us all that we need when we need it. And I hold onto this trope with Kare's face on the outside of it this winter.

She has amazed me with her courage. Going home again and finding herself and her love and then going forward and accomplishing the thing she thought at one point she could not. We are stronger than we know. So, here is an exercise for us this winter, loves. Find something you adore or someone who brings you joy, someone who's journey shows you strength and movement through the dark and put their face on your winter. Allow them to lift you up when you can't do it for yourself.

If I may be so bold and selfish I am going to allow Karen to hold me up this winter.
And as I started this post, i love you.

be well tribe.

in peace

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happiness Is.....

An elusive butterfly, according to Henry David Thoreau. Something that is worked at and not a gift of the gods, according to Bertrand Russell. And Anything and everything at all, that's loved by you, according to Charlie Brown.

They are all correct and incorrect at the same time, the joys of being human. I know someone that whenever I speak to them after the initial "How are you?" they say "FANTASTIC!" Really? Fantastic! All the time, whenever I speak with you? Is it me making you so happy or are you just one of those permanently happy people? Doing drugs? Delusional? You should not be Fantastic, things should and do suck, right?

Well, yes they do. Life has a way of sucking the joy right out of you sometimes, even more so when there wasn't that much there to being with. Most mental health care professionals posit that you have a finite happiness quotient. Happiness is hereditary. So if you come from chronically unhappy parents, guess what? You're liable to be miserable your entire life. That's when free will and self-help books kick in because of course, you can do something about this and not always with drugs, usually with sticking fucking post-its on your mirrors with pithy sayings like: "I am somebody!" "Happiness is a choice." "Today is the first day of the rest of my life." Yeah, how's that working for you?

I am an optimistic person, for the most part, especially when surrounded by pessimism, I tend to go to my happy place. But at the core of me, at the root and at my foundation, unhappy. When I stop and get still peace is not all its cracked up to be. I am one of those chronically dramatic people who seeks excitement, adventure and spectacle. Being a theatre artist it comes to me by training and being a Leo it comes to me by birth. But, know what? I am not happy in those highly dramatic moments either. So who is right? What does happiness consist of?

I think, ultimately that it is a series of moments, events and decisions that create happiness. And I am also going to choose to believe that we can live there every second of every day if we chose, not overlooking the sadness or the drama or the pain, rather invitiing all those things in for tea. Life can be so harsh a great deal of the time. And all we (and I am speaking royally here) have is well, yea, our reaction to it.

So Happiness is.....I'm going with Charlie Brown on this one.

in peace

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fall On Me

Tell the sky and tell the sky fall on me. ~ REM

I want the sky to fall on me. To smother me with stars and milky ways and galaxies. To cushion me with clouds and water me with rain. And blanket me with night until I wake and find out it was all a dream.

Life is good right now. It is hard at the same time. I enjoy being in the place where I can see that things are not perfect, not even close, but that my life is so much better than it was two years ago or even better than the homeless person who camps out on our corner with his dog. He sits there twice a week reading Nietzsche. As if he needed more backup for nihilism. A part of me wants to grab a cardboard box and sit down next to him and ask him about his life. What did he do when he was five and how did he get there. But I know myself. I am the girl who's mother would take her wallet every time we went to 125th Street because she knew I would give money to every crackhead and alcoholic who asked. It is in my nature. Now I try to look compassionately as I walk past but don't offer money and definitely don't sit down and strike up a conversation. My father would have. And would have walked away not feeling guilty for not having done more.

My son is my father incarnate. He has no fear and no walls. He finds people fascinating and they in return adore him up close and from afar. People literally stop on the streets to stare at him. He has that glow. I can take no credit for the light inside of him or the joy he brings other people, especially me and his father. I can just smile and be grateful that I have been chosen to usher this great soul through this part of his life. Hopefully staying out of his way long enough to keep the light intact. Smothering is a great hazard in the parenting biz.

And I am one of those people who looks for the highs in life. It had me misdiagnosed as bipolar for a moment there. I am not bipolar. I am an adventure seeker. An edge walker. A theatre artist. I was grateful for the doctor who saw that. That I work in waves. I attack a project and see it to its logical conclusion and then I hibernate for awhile. Leos do that. They seek the Sun and they seek their lair. They need the red hotness of the Sun, for they are the Sun. But they are also a fixed sign and they need stability and tradition and dare I say it, routine. It took me 39 years to realize that that is my routine. The burning energy and then the retreat. It works for me. I have been in a rather long state of hibernation. Taking some time to smooth my heart down. But now I feel the Sun calling me to dance in her rays. I want the sky to fall on me.

New projects are dancing in front of me. New energy is filling me up. New thoughts and ideas as well as new friends and adventures. My life today looks completely different than it did one year ago. And I realized that as I watched my son who was known as the Mayor of South Orange walk down Columbus Avenue and be called by his name by more than one shop owner. He is himself, wherever he is. He lets his light shine always. He can't help it. So, who am I to not join his parade.

Buy the sky and sell the sky and lift your arms up to the sky
And ask the sky and ask the sky
Fall on me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My 100th Post!!!!

Wow! 100 posts. Why is that something to mark? Don't know, maybe its the symmetry of the number. I have so much to say and I think it is fitting that this post be a sort of re-cap of the last couple of years. Because the more things change the more they stay the same.

Ever have so much to get done that you cannot even prioritize them? If you have children or a family that depends on you then your priorities tend to follow their immediate needs. But one thing I have always said and written about hear ad nauseum is that if Mama, or whoever is the head of the tribe, is not happy then no one is happy. This time of the year is the end of the year for me. I work very much on a lunar calendar and I embrace the fall as the beginning of the new year. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Samhain (the Witch's New Year) all give me an opportunity to leave summer (my least favorite season) behind me and to begin again. This transformation often begins on my birthday - July 31st - which is also the eve of Lammas or the Midsummer in the Witch's world. I identify as so many different traditions and none at all.

Much the way March is a month of deep introspection and my own harrowing of hell, September is a time of beginnings. I am intricately linked to the beginning of the school year. I belong in an academic setting. It is where I feel most alive. Where life is idealized and anything can be tried. So this fall, having no class to teach or to take has filled me with a bit of melancholy. I satisfy that desire to learn and to know by embarking upon many different plans. One or two of them manage to last the entire year and some of them keep coming back year after year having not been fulfilled. Waiting thinking, "Maybe THIS is the year she will get to me." Those orphaned dreams tend to be the ones that directly correspond to my well-being and my personal and spiritual growth. Not this year. All those orphaned dreams are being brought into my home and given refuge. My kids are not first this time. My ex-husband is not first. Cancer is not first. My friends aren't even first. I am. That is my New Year's Resolution.

One other habit I have is to discuss my big plans for myself and publish them for all the world to see. And then when I don't accomplish them I feel like a fraud and a failure. I am a private person by nature but I have decided to keep these wishes and dreams to myself this time. They are my own sweet secrets and pleasures. Perhaps you will see the results of them should you pass me in the grocery store. Or perhaps you won't. It doesn't matter anymore. My joy is not based upon the approval of others any longer. It is based upon the approval of me. What brings me joy. What makes me delirious. What makes my toes curl. All those things done in the name of pleasure and personal growth will be mine. Let your imaginations run wild with that one - mine has.

As always I bid you peace, my tribe, I love you more than can ever be written or expressed. And know that the fact that I can do any of these things, whatever they are, is because you all have been the very best parts of holding me up all these years. Time to love me as much as you do.

in peace

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I have missed you

Tribe! It has been two months since I last wrote to you. Thank you for the emails, the notes, the birthday wishes and the love you have sent my way. Moving has been an exercise in patience, grace and faith. It is not over yet. Turning 39 two weeks ago has been an exercise in acceptance and trust. It has been a true awakening these last two months. As most of you know we moved to the NYC! Me and the kids packed up the minivan (truth be told we are not completely out of the Jersey house yet)and took our show on the road. We moved into the heart of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Filled with everything I love - cupcake shops, farmer's markets and lots of places to express my latent Judaism :)! What you all may not know is that Ilya lives two flights up. Yes, you read that correctly. We moved into the same building. Why you may ask? I asked myself the exact same question. For the kids, of course. It is convenient to have him two flights up for children handover on the weekends. It is convenient to send one of them upstairs when I just can't take it anymore (truth be told, that doesn't happen very often, even though I often can't take it anymore!). But most of all it allows me the opportunity to separate safely and with good feelings intact. I do, resist the urge to call often the way I did when we were still married. I do make the decisions on my own, call the super, fix the problems. And I love it. When you are in a marriage for a while you can forget that you can take care of yourself and that you have in fact been doing it all along. Grateful for that reminder that I am in fact capable. We all need that reminder from time to time.
So where I in my life at the moment? Well, still unemployed. Still writing and working on the makings of a book with my sister-friend minkgirl, if only in my mind! Still planning to go back for my PhD. Working on job applications, my application to interfaith seminary this fall, and doing all of it with as much grace as I can muster. Which lately feels like a lot. Dearly looking forward to the fall when the kids are in school and my time during the day will be filled with work and yoga. This is not a particularly deep post. Those will come in time :)! Think of this more as a hello and a warm hug after time apart. I take you with me tribe. Always.

We are blessed may we recognize the blessing.

in peace,

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My Mind on Repeat.....Intimacy

I recently sent a friend, we'll call them Jazz, an email with almost this exact title. Things resonate with me for a long time. My friend Karen asked how I approach my blog and I told her that I often end up writing about something that has been circling my head for awhile. I walk around with it for a bit, both consciously and unconsciously, turning it over until it bears fruit.

Jazz and I have an email relationship. We write each other and share ideas and thoughts and musings on life along with music recommendations. Those emails are often the better part of my week. And that interaction allowed me to realize - or perhaps re-member something about myself: I express myself best from a distance.

This blog and those emails have given me an extraordinary opportunity. To really go inside and meet myself. I am not often able to have the witty comeback in person and often feel that my real time connections lack depth because they are either brief hellos while picking up children or passings in the aisles of Trader Joe's. And I long for the "C"onversation. Big C. The talks about life and love and loss and all the other things those of us with too much education and a bit of money in the bank are fortunate enough to be able to think about. And I have often felt at odds with this privilege in my life. I am from a culture typically more focused on survival than on reflecting on the quality of that survival. So, being able to think, at length, about my existence has created a kind of cognitive dissonance inside me. Does it make me a better, more evolved person? Or does it make me a self-involved, self-indulged person?

What I do know is that my upbringing, and its focus on survival, has made me the kind of person who has a difficult time telling another person in real time, with any realness, that I love them and need them and find them to be simply extraordinary. I have learned to tell other people about the strengths of my loves - not telling them or showing them how much they mean to me. And my writings have allowed me to write what pains and fears lurk inside me in a way I may not be able to say to another person without that distance. Anna Deavere Smith was asked what she gets from doing interviews with people and then re-telling their story. And she said this:
"My microphone and my ear create the necessary distance to get close to someone."
I get that. So much. While I want to be close to people my fears and expectations stop me from doing that. When I want to tell someone: "I love you and want to hold you and listen to your heartbeat, thank you for being alive," there is a barrier that stops me because they might think I am "in love" with them or that worse yet, that I want to have a "Relationship" with them, when really I just want to hear their heartbeat. Intimacy. Still working on having that in my life in a way that is satisfying and meaningful.

This is what Jazz wrote in an email to me recently that sparked this post:
....In the modern world we have a lot of time and energy to worry about who does and doesn't love us. In a traditional subsistence culture you're pretty busy trying to stay alive, and in the remaining time you're either fornicating or fighting, often for the same reason. I find it interesting that in a lot of African American musics (blues, soul) the response to failed love is more about taking action--getting revenge, movin' on--than moping. I'm sure there are exceptions.

So there is where I stand, straddling the line between my culture and education - working to bring them together and to create a tribe in real time that embraces me and my desires. More stones on my path.

We are blessed may we recognize the blessing

in peace tribe

Friday, May 28, 2010


A word I have never been able to embrace. Sometimes it's necessary to fail to grow, right?

I am getting a divorce. I think we all know about this. And like a magnet I am drawing more people in the middle or post-divorce into my cipher. I may be doing it unconsciously, but I don't believe in coincidence. I need these folks in my tribe. But one of the things I have heard repeatedly from those in the divorce category is the word "failure." Before that I hadn't thought of having failed at my marriage. Now, don't get me wrong I am not one of those people who took marriage lightly. I didn't get married to get divorced if it "didn't work out." I am not that frivolous. But what I was unprepared for was the work - the nature of the work - that goes into making a relationship live and work. But that is a conversation for my therapist.

Failure. I avoid this word at all costs. I often feel inadequate in my daily life. Constantly looking around me and comparing my strengths and faults to those doing the "same" job. Mothering, teaching, being a woman.....always comparing. Feeling stuck and incapable of improving. Wondering why I keep making the same mistakes over and over again. But a failure?! That's pretty harsh. So, what did I do - I went to the dictionary to get the full and true definition of this word:
Main Entry: fail·ure
Pronunciation: \ˈfāl-yər\
Function: noun
Etymology: alteration of earlier failer, from Anglo-French, from Old French faillir to fail
Date: 1643
1 a : omission of occurrence or performance; specifically : a failing to perform a duty or expected action b (1) : a state of inability to perform a normal function — compare heart failure (2) : an abrupt cessation of normal functioning c : a fracturing or giving way under stress
2 a : lack of success b : a failing in business : bankruptcy
3 a : a falling short : deficiency
b : deterioration, decay
4 : one that has failed

And I settled on the first definition - a failing to perform a duty or expected action. Expected action. The example is paying your rent. Well, yea I get that. Rent is a finite thing that can be measured and expected empirically. But marriage? What is it that is expected of me in my marriage? Everyone is different. And I began to see that I had to measure myself by my understanding of what I was or was not supposed to bring to my partnership. Yea, I failed at some of it. I am not the easiest person to get along with much less live with. And while I have a great many bad habits that have improved I think when you become unhappy with a person it's far easier to see the bad habits that didn't improve. And the final answer is whether or not I feel I lived up to my commitments or not. Some I did, some I didn't. So, yea I guess I did fail.

And I don't shirk the responsibility for that. And I have a chance to look at those things and make new decisions. And I am trying to incorporate that stigma attached to divorce and "failure." Those are not my stigmas. I failed to meet other people's expectations - and all I can do about that is apologize and vow to do better. But there is a lot of life left for me. And a lot of opportunities to make different choices with the information I have now. So, today, anyway, I embrace my failures in the hopes that they will make me a better person, woman, mother maybe even wife someday - but I doubt it :)!

Do me a favor, kay? Reflect on your failures today. Invite them in and thank them for all they taught you and all the ways they have made you the brilliantly beautiful and resilient person you are today. I am hugging you long distance and thanking you for being part of the very best reflections I have.

we are blessed may we recognize the blessing

in peace tribe,

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I can't get there from here.......

Tears for Fears. I loved them in high school. Even though they were mortal enemies with my other favorite group: Wham!. How to fit bubble-gum pop, with a gorgeously gay lead singer into the same musical world as the brooding, dark and existential duo from Tears for Fears? Well, my music tastes pretty much sums up my entire life and personality - diametrically opposed to each other with more facets than the most perfectly cut diamond. But there has been a song lyric in my head for the last few days that seems to sum up how I feel lately. Reality is finally settling in and making for one very unhappy woman.

"Between the searching and the need to work it out, I stopped believing everything would be alright. Broken, we are broken." Tears for Fears.

They do write a catchy and melancholy little ditty don't they? I am in that in-between place where I have to make changes in my life. But most of the changes I need to make are dependent upon other people and a bad economy and a questionable use of my many skills. I need a job that pays more than my fun teaching gig. I need to decide where to move my family - do we stay in our very expensive town or do we take our show to Broadway? Do I give away everything I own or keep it or try to sell it? And where is my personal assistant to do all of that thinking for me? And that's how I feel. I feel broken. I feel as though there are pieces of me scattered all over the place and I can see them but I can't pick them up much less fit them back together again. And I am standing right there - on the edge of that cliff wanting to jump off and say - you know what life is just one big bowl of suck. It doesn't get better - and there are no happy endings. It's just day after day of the same shit.....but you know me better than that - and I know me better than that.

So, even in the middle of this dark time I am able to see down the road. There is a little town a ways away, with sun and trees and rolling hills. But between me and it is a valley filled with rocks and spiders and dark clouds. I can see the lovely town, I know it's there and it's real. But I can't get there from here without going through the valley. And it sucks knowing that. It sucks knowing that you can't skip over the bad stuff.

I want to catch a plane or flag down a passing motorist on this road. I want a break. But nobody can do this work for me and it's no longer just me - so drowning my sorrows in booze and smokes isn't going to work either. Ahhh, my twenties! Children make you grow up in a way you don't always want to. And disaster makes you want to crawl back to a time when you were being taken care of and housed and fed - but you still snuck out on Saturday nights to do what you want. There's no sneaking out. There's no taking off. It's a 24 hour gig this mommy thing. And honestly, it sucks. But that's the part of growing up that they don't tell you about - the sacrifice and the pain and the swirling vortex of suck!

And I never want to be the person who writes wah-wah posts. But this is one of them. And I feel like I am due. It'll be okay. I can see the town. I know it's there. And I have no idea how long it is going to take me to get there. But I will get there. And I will have this post to remind me of how far I came to get there. But in the meantime, tribe, know that this thing I am in - sucks - a lot!

we are blessed - today I am missing the blessing - but it will be back soon....

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Does Discipline Equal Love - bell hooks response #1

News Flash: I am black. Which means, usually, that I was raised in a black family. It just so happens that I was raised in a typical black family of the 70's. First generation northerner. My grandmother was born in the south and lived through share cropping and jim crow and then moved north to get married and have her children. But the south came with them when they migrated north as did the ancient adage and practice of children being seen but not heard. But it was more than that.

I was an inquisitive child. Always asking questions, the way children do. But that was frowned upon in my family. I was constantly being quieted and told I talk too much. I was discouraged from asking questions and seen as a nuisance if I persisted. To this day my relatives still refer to me as "the child who didn't know when to keep her mouth shut." WTF? My family showed they cared in the way I am sure they had to in the south - they verbally abused us. We were told to "stay in our place" and to "not question our elders." And I am sure that this type of training was of particular use to young black men in the south who could be found swinging from the nearest magnolia if they didn't avert their eyes in the presence of a white woman. But that wasn't the reality I was living in in the north - I mean I was a freed negro. But the elders of the family held sway and controlled how things were done and so that same type of discipline - down to picking my own switch - continued through my childhood.

Being seen and not heard, however, backfired. I was privy to all kinds of "adult" conversations. I heard things I didn't quite understand and things I understood all too well. With my mouth shut my eyes and ears were open and I, more often than not, copied the behavior rather than the words. But a few things happened to me recently that made me think about my use of language and the way I "discipline" my children.

Up until recently - the last 10 years or so- I had incredibly violent language. And I didn't realize it was violent until I stopped to listen to what I was really saying. I had incorporated my upbringing into my daily living and it was an uncomfortable realization. But the other day I saw a young black mother with her two children crossing the street. She was pulling the youngest to get across before the light changed, even though I am pretty sure the cars were not going to run her over. And I saw her getting more and more frustrated with her youngest child who had at this point begun to cry. And the mother turned on her child and screamed (and I am not kidding here, she screamed) into that little face: "SHUT UP BEFORE I GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!" And there is was - my 100th angel arriving in my presence. I have heard that sentence said to me more often than I care to remember. As if being publicly humiliated and dragged across a street WASN'T something to cry about. It made me cry. And I cried for the little spirit that was crushed that day in the street. And I cried for the little me who had also gotten her spirit stamped on at an early age. And then they came: the hot angry tears of remorse when I realized that I had at some point in my life said the same thing to my children. OUCH! I am not proud of admitting this but it is true. I have told my children to shut up and I have told them I would give them something to cry about and I use threats to get results. And I am searching for a better way to raise my kids. And I realize that in times of frustration and fear we revert to our training and mine was verbally abusive.

bell hooks talked about this in her interview with my friend Nathalie. She said that in the black community we discourage inquisition by children. And when we do that we silence them and instill in them the belief that asking questions is wrong. That to question is wrong. We, as a people, cannot afford to be silent and not ask questions. Of our educators, our politicians, our government, our service providers, our food suppliers. And this type of silencing keeps us, as a people, enslaved. There is a lot of "old school" folks out there who think that talking with your kids and asking them questions is weak. That we are elevating our children to the level of "adult." That they don't know their place. Well, aren't these all the same things said about black people back in the day? We were seen as children who needed to be reminded of our place. And we cannot afford to pass that misconception on to our children. They must question - everything - including us. As uncomfortable as it may be.

So, does discipline equal love? I think it depends on what you mean by discipline. Here is the Merriam-Webster definition of discipline:
1 : punishment
2 obsolete : instruction
3 : a field of study
4 : training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
5 a : control gained by enforcing obedience or order b : orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior c : self-control
6 : a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity

And I love, ironically, how the first definition is punishment. But then it is instruction and training that corrects or molds. And that is a huge responsibility - molding a young character. What kind of people do we want to create? People who are afraid to question authority and who feel disenfranchised? Or strong, compassionate, inquisitive people? I am going with the latter. And I am working every day on disciplining myself first - loving myself first so I have something of worth to give my children.

we are blessed may we recognize the blessing

photo: Leonard John Matthews

next installment in the bell hooks response: the black woman's body - stay tuned

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Between here and eternity

Why do I make lists instead of getting up and doing things? I can think myself into inaction like no one else I know. I went by a good friend's blog today just to see if she had posted anything in the last year - and wonders - she had. And it reminded me of the conversation we have been having all of our adult lives. How do we make our way in the world? What do we do when our ambition and passion meet our children and commitments? How do we get it all done when there are only 24 hours in every day and we can no longer function with less than 7 hours sleep? I spend a great deal of my time running on fumes. And it does not produce my best work - but something gets done. And I have resigned myself to the fact that I cannot have everything I want when I want it. But I still want it.

I am not a feminist. And I don't know if there is a word for what I am. I.AM.SO.DISAPPOINTED.IN.FEMINISM. And I am disappointed in the women who continue to tout it's purpose and strength without acknowledging that it is built by women of privilege. Privilege of opportunity, possibly money but definitely skin color. I am not a feminist. If feels as though there was never a place for me in their number. And so I went, like all conscious-college-educated-black-women to Alice Walker. Womanist. That's what I am. It's the 90's and I am feeling my political and sexual power. I am a womanist. I identify with the woman of me while simultaneously acknowledging that my gender is socially constructed; and that the personal is political. I coalesce with white women but don't get too close because they can't really understand what I am going through. But then I grow up and have kids. And I am not angry with every man in my cypher so I choose to be married and build a family. And I am not disgusted with my biology rather marvel at what my body has the fortitude and ancient knowledge to do - completely unassisted. So what am I now?
I engage in the "mommy wars" and breastfeed my babies in public and I boycott every chain store and company that makes life harder for us mothers, even going as far as not buying ANYTHING made in China. That sucked.

Now I am here. Almost 40. In the process of a divorce. Unemployed and raising three children. What am I now? Well, according to the census, because I am the head of the household, black and female and a mother - I am a statistic.

In the black community it is considered the ultimate insult to call somebody out of their name. And lately I have been thinking about what it is I want to be called. Who am I? I know, that sounds like the beginning of some really bad beat poem from the 60's. But I am not going anywhere to find myself. I am just reflecting on the fact that I am quite possibly all of those things. And none of them at the same time. And I am trying to figure out how to be in the world. How to present myself in the world. I am writing lists and journal entries all in an effort to figure out who to present on a daily basis. And wondering what would happen if I just got up and let the day happen. If I did some things that made me happy, and some things that need to get done and a few things I hate doing but are my responsibility. Then go to bed and get up and do it all over again. When I was little I always thought I was destined for greatness. And as I aged and made my choices and greatness did not appear, I began to get disappointed in myself. Not able to see the brilliance in the choices I had made and the people I had helped. Not valuing the little things. Always searching, always making lists. There is greatness in every step we take. And we can have it all - and when we look back at our lives just before our exit we will see each of those moments. Why wait for that day?

My sista-friend Minkgirl had this to say:
I am saying a prayer for myself and for all the other super-charged women I know that we can balance not just work and family, but joy and despair. There is much that is overwhelming, distracting, disturbing, and downright depressing about the lives we are living. And there is much that is joyful, beautiful, sweet, hopeful, and hysterically funny.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pimping the Jewish Hood

I got this email yesterday from a friend:
"Dearest Keisha, I loved your latest blog post and I know how you feel. Much the same way when I see myself in my mid-thirties unable to find a Jewish husband. I look at non-Jewish women married to Jewish men and it makes me shake all over. I think about how my ancestry is being erased in a single moment..."

Oh my. Did I mention my husband is Jewish? She was kind enough not to call me out specifically as someone responsible for erasing her ancestry. But I felt that sting too. I am reminded of that quote from Bulworth (yea, I watched it): "All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep ****in' everybody 'til they're all the same color."

I don't think I like that idea. This is an uncomfortable thing to admit but I think about my kids and who their partners will be. And it would bother me if my sons chose a woman who did not resemble me. It would bother me if my grandchildren looked less and less like me until there was no distinction in race. And I know that that is the ideal for some people. But not for me. Our differences need to be seen and acknowledged before they can go away. And turning everyone into beige would not solve that problem.

But back to my friend. I get her point completely. Judaism is carried through the mother. And when you turn away from a Jewish woman you turn away from having Jewish children and a Jewish home. That hurts her. And even more it hurts, in her opinion, the continuation of her people. She ended her email with this line: "I just wish they would stop pimping the Jews." Woah, I suddenly felt like J-Lo when she finished dating P-Diddy or Puffy or whatever the hell his name was at the time. She got accused of Pimping the Black Hood to advance her career.

I wrote her back: "I got you. And I thank you for not calling me out in particular, although your email relates to me directly. And I acknowledge your pain and I get feeling erased." That's all I could say. Much the same way no one can say anything to me to make things better, just air it out and acknowledge it's there. The work is just beginning tribe, get your boots on!

photo: naranjalady

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Colored Contradictions

I said I wasn't going to respond to Jill Scott's op-ed in Essence magazine this week. I said it and I meant it. But then I did what I try so hard not to do, I got caught up in it and allowed my empathic self to get immersed in my feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal from my own past. Now I have no intentions of this blog being one big confessional but what I have learned from the comments here and on Facebook, and the private emails, is that I often dare to say some of the things we all think and feel but don't write about. And that is a confession I am willing to make publicly. For the truly intense and personal things I can always go around the corner to the Catholic church if I feel the need to have my soul cleansed, nine years in Catholic school I know how to do it - "Bless me father, for I have sinned, it's been five minutes since my last confession."

Let me start this post with a story. I was standing outside one beautiful Spring afternoon with three phenomenal women. Smart, beautiful, progressive and all white. One of them showed a picture of her boyfriend, prefacing the display of his visage by saying, "He's 45 but could pass for 30 ALL DAY," I was eager to see this man. And then I saw the picture - he was black. I winced. I did. Me standing there, married, at that time for 7 years to a white man. I winced. I felt that the wince was an internal one - one not visible to the eyes outside the "race," but she immediately turned to me and said, "Do you hate me?" This caught me off guard. Her honesty, her awareness that this relationship might actually affect me, me who had NO chance of dating that man. And I turned to her and said, "I smarted for a second, but no I don't hate you. Love who you will." And I meant that. And I would love for my wince to have come immediately from a history lesson of black women as mammies and work-horses and single black women blamed for emasculating our men when in actuality it was the white power structure that cut their balls off and pimped out our uterus while killing our seed. I have that - firmly in my DNA. But I winced because I had a more personal response. I thought of the all the black men in my personal history who I loved who did not love me back. I thought of all the black men who stepped over me: an able, beautiful and brilliant woman, to get to the blonde on my left. That was the pain behind that wince. And that was not a pain I wanted to hold onto, nor a pain I wanted to have hold me back.
And I admit - it seems ridiculous for me, a black woman who has been in interracial relationships, married outside my ethnicity and have multiracial children, to wince. But I did. I don't anymore. I feel the pain, often of not belonging fully in any community because of my relationship choices, but I don't wince.

I think of how my best friend, years ago, had a bit of trepidation in her voice when telling me that she was dating a black man. I felt, then, that I had the right to be righteously indignant about her choice. She was far more sensitive than another white friend who told me that the black man she was dating was about as "black as I was." I knew that wasn't going to last - her relationship or our friendship and neither did. But my BFF knows me, she knows my soul and she knew how I felt even though it wasn't a fight she ever had with me, because I think she also knew it was not a fight worth having. Does it still sting when I see a black man with a white woman in particular, yea it does. And not because I think they don't have the right to be together - of course they do. In this world take love where you can find it. It just brings back to the front of my eyes my personal pain and my love/hate affair with the black men from my past. And it is one of my 100 angels showing up to tell me to get my own affairs in order. To clean up my own house first. Is this topic so much bigger than I could ever fully address here? Of course it is but I felt I would not be honest if I didn't tell you these stories. They are the makings of me. A beautiful, brilliant and flawed sister of the yam - working on my self recovery.

in peace,

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Over the Hills and Far Away.......

This is where I am when I am staring off into space. It happens less now then when I was a girl. But I believe in daydreaming. I think it's healthy and gives our ideas wings. But this is also the title of my favorite Led Zeppelin song (#7 on the playlist). And I have been thinking about it a lot lately. Playing it over and over again and being transported to a different time in my life - high school. Ahhh, high school. The most awkward and emotionally painful time of my life. And I have learned, of most people's lives. That is the time when we develop our sense of personal currency. What are we worth in the world? And what must we do/use to get what we want in the world?

I went to boarding school for high school. And I think adding "predominantly white" in front of boarding school is redundant for the 80's and probably for now as well. And I know I have written how going there saved my life in so many ways. But that revelation came with time. What I most starkly remember about high school is feeling invisible. I wasn't used to this because I had come from a place where I was quite visible and felt capable. And then I went somewhere where I felt I was not seen - as either a person or a girl. It was a weird, kind of out of body experience. Leaving high school and going to college was a huge shock because once there, even though I was in Appleton, Wisconsin I was immediately visible and quite aware that I had somehow, despite my best efforts, transformed from a girl into a woman. A transition I am not sure I was ready for.

The other day I was visiting with a Mama-friend and we were talking about the girls of today. She joked that her idea of risque was wearing a white shirt so her bra strap would show through the shirt! And that she learned this particular move in college. I had to laugh. I totally understood what she was talking about. I learned my best moves in college and some of them I am just now perfecting! And I am raising a young woman. She has a fearless fashion sense. The original inquiring mind and she is bold and adventurous and poetic and beautiful. She has also disengaged from her body - at the age of nine. I know the look, I did the same thing. But there are marked differences between me and my daughter and I am highly conscious of not projecting my childhood issues onto her. Of speaking with her and asking questions and encouraging open dialogue. But just like me when I was her age she has decided that below her neck does not serve her purposes in the world. She has decided that her currency is her mind and her voice (she sings - like I did).

A move I did learn before adulthood is that parents lead by example. I remember far more about my parents' deeds than anything they ever said to me. And I have been working on reclaiming my body not just for myself but for my daughter. I don't trust my body. I don't trust she is going to be there for me when I need her. And I don't fully believe that she can, at this point in her existence and with all she's been through, bounce back. But what I believe really doesn't matter. There is evidence to the contrary. And what I say really doesn't matter. It's all about what I do. So, all of the work I do getting myself together, loving and trusting myself is about so much more than how it makes me feel. And since I chose not to die but to live for my kids, better to make it some really great living! Little eyes are watching....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Existential Crisis

Don't worry that is just a fancy word for the fact that being a human sucks sometimes, especially when we realize that being a human sucks sometimes. I have to say that I am so much better at processing difficulties in my life. And sometimes I just need to stop speaking and go underground to really work through some issues and pains that are surfacing - and I will be coming back to this point again later when I start my response to bell hook's interview with my friend Nathalie. bell spoke about how she wanted to be silent six days ago when her mother died. And people were pissed off about that. People didn't like the fact that they did not have immediate access to her. And then she said: I am sure people don't expect to get in touch with Cornell West immediately. Amen, bell. I bet they don't.

March is a difficult month for me. It always has been. And sometimes I can catch myself ahead of time and get prepared for it and this year I tried to do that but it didn't work completely. I was unkind and abrupt with those in my cipher and with established relationships you can do that occasionally, but with seedling relationships, you may have to deal with the fall-out of not being trusted again. Or having to earn back your trust. Okay. I take that.

The beginning of March is all about death and loss for me. My father died 19 years ago, March 3rd. My friend Leah's birthday, who died from leukemia, is March 15th and the anniversary of the death of a dear friend is also March 15th (yea, I know - The Ides of March. F-ing Romans!). And also at the beginning of March I received news that my Hierophant was ending treatment for his pancreatic cancer. All around me was loss - of people, of relationships, of intimacy, of feeling loved in the world. And I am one of those people who values her virtual tribe but really needs live people close to her. And I was missing my far-flung friends and the intimacy you can only get from actually seeing someone's eyes when you speak to them. Life sucked last week. And the thought of it now still makes me cry.

And my spirit needed to make it's annual trek to the underworld to excavate those feelings and to harrow my personal hell. I find it highly un-coincidental that I go through this purging during Lent - right before Passover and Easter. My own personal desert (Merriam's secondary and tertiary definitions of desert: 2 archaic : a wild uninhabited and uncultivated tract 3 : a desolate or forbidding area ).
And I am considering putting this time on my calender, not so it can be avoided but so I can better prepare for it next year. I think I need this time to renew myself and get ready for Spring.

What was the hardest part of this time was when I looked at myself and actually felt guilty for being alive. I felt guilty for surviving cancer. I wasn't supposed to survive. I had lost so much to cancer and I didn't understand why me? Because I have 3 children? Because I am young? Because there are still things I haven't done with my life? All of these things are true of those I've lost and so many more. It doesn't make sense. And it's not supposed to. These are the moments when I long for and desire to cling to a religious ideology because then I don't have to figure this out for myself - it is prescribed for me. But luckily this time is short-lived. Usually a week or so. And then I come out on the other side with relationship tending to do. Lesson learned. Next year the first two weeks of March will be spirit-tending time. And time to be more gentle with myself and those around me. I don't think, however, that I want to give up this time. I don't want to avoid experiencing this pain. It makes me more alive on the other side of it. It also feels like what butterflies do before they emerge from their cocoon. They slough off the old and emerge beautiful and ready to take flight. And over time the pain will erode until there is just me.

I accept my existential crisis and am grateful to have figured out that it is real. Grateful to be here to feel the pain.

in peace and past the sky

photo: MG Bolts

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Tree of Life

The "sefirot" are the energy points that make up the soul and fill our being. They are called the Tree of Life and are depicted as an upside down tree with its roots planted in heaven.....symboliz[ing] the energy rooted in the Creator, whose thoughts and feelings are expressions of our mind & heart and create... the story of our life.

Those of you who are close to me know that I think I am Jewish. The rabbi I used to study with, Rabbi Cohen, told me he thought I had a Jewish soul. Flattered. That has to be legitimate coming from a rabbi, right? I must really have a Jewish soul. A need to belong, to have a well-defined tribe, brought me to Judaism. That and my belief when I was a child, that despite being baptized Baptist and going to Catholic School, that I most identified with the Hasidim of Boro Park. But the interesting thing - I didn't identify with the women walking steps behind their men pushing baby strollers and sporting ripe bellies. I identified with the men walking and arguing and swaying back and forth in prayer. I identified with the scholar. And then Yentl came out - why Barbra why? I was hooked. Planning to cut my hair and grow a beard and go to yeshiva. One thing - I am not Jewish. And despite my best efforts I could not convert. There was too much I had to accept to belong. World views and beliefs I had taken the time to craft. I was not giving that up. And I would not make irreperable decisions for my children. Their journey to Grace needs to be their own. And I couldn't go there. But, if I may be so bold, I still think I have a Jewish soul and a Buddhist soul (do Buddhist's have souls?)and a Christian, Rastafari, Hindu soul. What does that mean to me?

I am proud of the work I have done in life to create an ontology that includes things greater than me where respect for others is a given and not a suggestion. Where the weak are put first until such a thing no longer exists. And where the only thing that serves as currency is love. Naive. Working on getting more people to jump on that bandwagon. But what does really resonate with me is the image of the tree. The tree of life. I have a friend creating a tattoo for me. A piece of art I have envisioned in my mind since I was very little. A tree that grows into a woman. Have you ever read "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein? I hate that book. There is a beautiful tree who speaks in what I can only assume is a mother's voice (I don't recall if Silverstein was bold enough to use the feminine pronoun for the tree), and sacrifices herself for the boy who grew up in her shade. She gives him her apples to sell to make money, she gives him her leaves to sit beneath for shade, she has him cut her limbs down to make a boat, and when there is nothing left but a stump she tells him to sit on her and rest until he dies. WTF? I hate that book. What did the boy ever do for the tree? She should have taught him to stand on his own two feet and get a damn job. But no, in true sacrificing mother mode she gives the boy everything she has, without so much as a phone call or a card. Not this Mama.

My tattoo - it is of a tree who turns into a beautiful woman with her hands/limbs stretched up. There are representations of my children throughout the tree. The "fruit" as it were, but not attached to the tree rather resting on or near the tree with a definite independent spirit and life of their own. This Mama knows how to circle her children keeping them close but giving them enough space to grow and become their own person.

"Whose thoughts and feelings are expressions of our mind & heart," the Creator, Prime Mover, G-d, Bob Marley, whatever you chose to call the architect. We are expressions of that greatness, that power that breathed the world into being. We are individual pictures released into the world. As we each are expressions of the ones who created us. And the Creator does not sacrifice itself for our existence and neither should we for another. The Ashanti say that if we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors - on their shoulders, not on their dust after we have trampled them into the ground. All of that is to say - do not sacrifice who you are - your light, your fire for anyone or anything. The world is a better place because you dare to be who you are. Ashe.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

So Unsexy

I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful
So unloved for someone so fine
I can feel so boring for someone so interesting
So ignorant for someone of sound mind

On my next birthday I will be 39. There I said it. And last week I looked at a picture of me from college. Why did I do that? There was a time in my life when I was not just cute but hot. Seriously. I have witnesses. And this is not about growing old it's about growing OLD. You are as old as you feel. And lately I feel ancient. I have the total Mom thing going on right down to the jeans that are too big for me, well that's kind of a good thing. Where did my groove go?

When I had my daughter I stopped wearing heels. When I had my first son I stopped wearing skirts and when I had my last son I stopped wearing make-up. It was all too much work. I used to be the girl who could get asked to a formal at 4pm and have something to wear and be ready by 5pm. Well now - I need a good week to prepare for any kind of outing. And that was a wake-up call for me. Mom is not synonymous with dowdy. And it really isn't too much work.

Transforming into a mother was a huge step for me. I felt that I was "supposed" to show up a certain way. That I really had to give everything I had and some stuff I had to borrow to my kids - all the time. And that was probably true during labor but after that - they are independent from me. And there are other people who can and will love and care for them as well as I do. I don't need to be onstage all the time. And it is okay to take care of myself. In fact, it's mandatory.

There are au pairs and nannies in our town. Lots of them. I live in that kind of town. And they are all young and nubile and foreign with tight asses. I hate them, each and every one of them. But what I dislike more is my reflection in them. I am never going to be 20 again (20 was a particularly good year!). But when I think of all that I have gained in life since 20, I don't want to go back. I would not trade what I know now about life for what I had back then and didn't know. And this post is about self-esteem. Get it, hold onto it and use it. It's hard for us, Mamas. We feel tired and overworked and overwhelmed. And last week was a particularly difficult week for my psyche. But what I did to get out of that was shop. I went to the MAC counter - which used to be my favorite place. I bought new make-up and I sat there and listened to a young beautiful girl tell me how she wished she had my skin while she applied very little foundation to my face! But it wasn't her compliments that brought back my swagger it was my reflection in the mirror after putting on the lipstick. My lips have always been my best feature. Lipstick applied and my face lit up. My eyes seem to unsink from my head and a smile came to those rouged bows.

So, I am putting the sexy back in my life. And that means putting me first. And taking care of me and doing my best to be fabulous, for myself, most of the time. I know those of you who feel the same way. It is easy to get stuck. So, spring is here. Get unstuck. You can do it. Meet me at the MAC counter if you doubt it!

photo:Alice Marie

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It's Not About....

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

Song lyrics - the poetry of my life. I can quote so many different songs and I am sure there is a line for every occasion. This one from the Indigo Girls has been swirling around my head for a couple of days now. I do not consider myself to be a scientist or a logician, if anything I am more of a chaos-lover. At least in my immediate surroundings. But when my life gets overwhelming and almost out of control I turn into someone who looks for definition. Someone who looks for order. And I will bend my will to create it.

My friend K strikes again. I know you are reading this Kar and I love you for hearing my cries into the ether. She sent my horoscope again last week. It was a sucky week for me. And in an effort "to smooth my heart down, long enough for the world to come around," I turned my brain inside out. This is what my horoscope said:

Leo July 21–August 22
You will be thinking of new endeavors, challenges, and how to best use resources. Notice intuition and perception are very strong at this time. If you tune in quietly within you’ll know who is thinking of and loving you. Concern about resources continues. However, in the long run this concern will evaporate. Did you expect something that didn’t occur? Is there disappointment?

Now I am not sure if reading this made me create new endeavors and challenges or if they were already in the works. But I am grateful for the opportunity. Do you spin a story in your head? Do you turn situations over and over again trying to figure out if what just happened really happened? And do you blame yourself when things don't go the way you want? I used to do these things - all the time. This past week I got a reminder of something - It's not about me! What an incredibly freeing thing to be reminded of. It's not about me? Really, I am NOT the center of the universe? Ahhhhh. It set me free. It's not about me. When I have challenges with other people their choices are not about me. The only thing I control is how I respond to it. The only thing I can control is how long I hold on to the moment.

This post is a less sexy follow-up to the Open Heart post. It is the day to day of opening your heart. It is the day to day of living in the world with other people. Most of my friends who read this blog are women. And I know we tend to be more emotional (although that category is by no means ours alone!). And we tend to discuss and turn over situations until we understand them. So if that is you and you want a little help moving through that today - here is more genius that my friend Kar sent me. As always I love you.

in peace

photo:Cinnamon Girl (I am thinking about changing my name to this - Love it!)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Open Heart

That's supposed to be a good thing, right? Having an open heart. Letting people in and embracing life. I don't do it very often, because it is hard for me. I mean really in, where I allow myself to have feelings for them and not just allow them to have feelings for me. I am always focused on the ending. When that thing or person goes - what is left with me? Usually pain and sadness. I don't like those things. But I mean, who does? This is a recurring theme in my posts. How to strike that balance between being open to receive and protecting your heart. I don't know if there is one. I think you have to be fearless in love. And at the same time one of the things I do really well is give to other people - but I have kept a small protective bubble around myself, so people can get only so close and then I shut down. And all my bad habits come out. I unconsciously start pushing that person away. Some people can take it for a few minutes and some people can take it for years.

But that was my quest a.c. (after cancer) to be better at opening my heart because in true cliche form life is short and shouldn't we have as much love as possible in our life? My BFF (yes, I am really a 12 year-old girl!) and I have been talking about being an empath - someone who opens themselves up to the energies of other people and beings. I am a human empath. Always have been. I can tell when people are in pain and I take in that pain so hopefully it is easier for them to carry. I knew the moment my paternal grandmother died, even though my father didn't find out for another 2 days. And when I consciously take in others' pain, like in the case of my friend Mary, then I can have a safe place to put it. But when it happens by accident - wow, the results can be disruptive to say the least. In an effort to keep that pain at bay I don't watch the news anymore. I don't watch celebrity culture anymore. And I don't see movies like "Precious" and "Hurt Locker." I know what evil lurks in human hearts and I don't need to consciously remind myself of that. And I don't need to walk around with that in my system. But when it happens with a human in the world, it is harder.

Boundaries have always been difficult for me to create, that is definitely the result of being a child of an addict. There aren't clear boundaries in that life. So learning how to set "healthy" boundaries when you have amassed so many bad habits in that respect, is work. Uncomfortable work. Your resolve weakens, because wouldn't it just be easier to do what you have always done? Of course it would. But then how do you evolve? And isn't evolve/evolution my favorite word?

So, I am doing the difficult work of creating a boundary now. And sticking with that decision. Keeping in mind that this ache is temporary. And it will pass. I have a ring that reminds me that this is true - "This Too Shall Pass." And I will come out on the other side of this a stronger, taller woman. I would like to share part of an email with one of my other Mamas -

Me: "How long does it suck?"
Carol: "Oh, it sucks for a long time, but the triggers become fewer. Listen to Pema Chodren, that's the best idea. Love you and know you will be OK. I know my girl, she's a rocker. Ma"

We are all rockers. We can do this thing called life. Not always with grace and no bruises. But we must know we will be OK. I will. And I love you and open my heart to you today.

in peace

photo: Baily Hollen

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Food of Love

Nothing tells the story of my mood better. The last couple of days Hedwig & The Angry Inch's Midnight Radio and Origin of Love have been in heavy rotation up in the cut. Beautiful music - but that's my watch it girl, you're standing close to the end of the cliff - music. That and Sade - and she's been in heavy rotation too. Why? Not particularly depressing music. Sade sings about love, quite well actually. And Midnight Radio is about loving who you are even if you are a "misfit or a loser, you know you're spinning to your rock and roll - lift up your hands!"
I think it's because of the first time I heard these songs - the place I was then.

I have always been a very feeling person. As a Leo and a theatre person, I am prone to the dramatic. In my recent years I have worked on keeping the drama on the stage and out of my life, but it creeps in in little ways. Ways that if I am not careful I will miss. It creeps in through my music. It says - hey, I'm not feeling too great today so I am going to let Hedwig do my talking for me. Music has been the way I've communicated with myself and the outside world for quite some time. And I don't see that changing much.

Lately I have begun expanding my music. Listening to singers that I love sing songs I haven't heard them sing before. Lovely. And I think about how I am feeling emotionally now as I bring these new songs into my life. What memories will be ingrained on these songs 10 years from now? Happy, scared, fascinated, hopeful? Probably a bit of each. Much like smell, music can take me anywhere I want to go. And right now I want to be some place warm and sunny where I am young and vibrant and anything is possible; and the future is a distant memory. Where love ruled my life and all that I surveyed. And if I go to that music I know I will be in that place.

we are blessed may we recognize the blessing

in peace


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

Do you think we are programmed to be the way we are or is it training, exposure and DNA -and by that I mean habitually watching our parents perfect a move? "Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference."

Facebook strikes again. Lately I have had the extreme joy of reconnecting with people from elementary school. Seriously, I mean people I met when I was five years-old! People I spent nine years of my life with. And there is so much from that time that I had forgotten and so love being reminded of. My past flashes across my eyes like the last moments before death - bits and pieces, smiles and tears. All in the hopes of remembering a life. Who would I be right now if I had stayed in New York at the age of fourteen? I left home and went to boarding school. It felt like the right thing to do at the time - it saved my life in so many ways. And yet, it turned me into a person who is really different from her extended family and from the people she knew when she was a girl.

Some of the questions I ask myself: would I still go to church? Would I still believe in a personal G-d? Would I have a different job or career? And is it even worth it to ponder these things? It feels like it's worth it in that it reminds me of the person I was and what I valued when I was young. I think I was always an unabashed progressive, never happy to fall neatly into a box but willing to stand in one while my vote was being counted. My friends are all over the globe and just down the street from me. And I have no one person, save for my sister, who can recall the best memories from my entire life instead of in 4 year increments. And all that is to say that I am rare and diverse. I can fit into so many places and have so many experiences to recall. Does that make me any less authentic? Is there some me that needs to show up everywhere and is always constant in her behavior and speech?

There was a white girl in college who told me that she was more black than me. Pissed me off. Because I realized that she equated being "black" with a kind of speech and walk and dress and music and food. I equated being black with being my mother's child, with having a very conscious understanding of racism and recognizing when I was being followed around a store. I equated it with trips to the south and family lore and being reminded that in my mother's lifetime my relatives could not share a bathroom with white people. With men who looked like my father and my sons swinging from trees and with the amazing hope of surviving the brutality of the Atlantic Ocean to stand on the shores of the diaspora and sing that note called blue, called jazz, called salsa, called reggae.

John Mayer recently (in what I am sure was a drug-induced spill of the tongue) told Playboy magazine that he had a "hood pass." That he was able to say words like "nigga" (I don't even say that word) but that his penis was a white supremacist. He didn't open himself up to being interesting to black women. What?! I don't really care who he has sex with - that is his choice but a hood pass? His penis is a white supremacist? Not funny. And it made me start thinking seriously about the issues of identity, culture and stereotype.

One of the reasons I stood up and cheered and talked back to the television during Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention was because of this sentence: "children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white." Amen. As my grandmother would say, "I was called everything except a child of G-d!" when I was growing up. "Not black enough," "Oreo," "White girl," and even the dreaded "N" word. But it was all in an effort to define my identity. To put me in a box that I don't think I ever lived in. I think I came to this planet hard-wired to be the girl that I am. The diverse, crazy, compassionate woman that I am.

Identity is so hard. But as I see 40 coming around the corner I am getting more and more comfortable with the many sides of me. And I am loving them and giving them each an equal voice in my head instead of constantly warring with them. It feels good. And it reminds me to keep my game tight for the next evolution. So all the parts of this girl - the professor, the mama, the motorcycle rider, the good coffee and wine-drinking, tattoo brandishing, minivan driving, soul food munching, grits cooking, trash-talkin, sista is letting her freak flag fly. And if you send yours up the flagpole I promise to salute.

we are blessed may we recognize the blessing

in peace,

credit to whom credit is due: Thank you Robert Frost for The Road Not Taken and the allusion to the "note called blue," from Elizabeth Alexander's Poem Absence.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Today is the first day......And today....And today...

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903; in Letters to a Young Poet

My friend K sent me something lovely yesterday, my horoscope. It said:
Leo July 21–August 22
You become more and more aware that you’re working with powerful forces this week. They’re not only cosmic forces but people around you will be acting them out. This is an extraordinary piece of information … to know that people in our environments act out planetary motion. Observe all work realities this especially this week. Remember also that from loss comes profound new life.

People in my personal cipher have been going in, up and through it lately. There is no denying that now is a time for serious personal growth for so many - those who are ready and willing (and some not so willing!) to do the hard painful work. Those of us who barely made it out of 2009 are being confronted with our quest - get it together baby. What?! Where is my lottery win, my all expense paid vacation, my date with Will Smith? Don't I get something for making it through last year fairly sane? Yes, you get the great joy of continuing in your evolution. I feel ripped off.

A friend and I used to say that "ignorance is bliss" but the fact that we know that makes us too aware to ever be blissful. Yea, dealing in philosophical syllogisms was our version of fun in high school. But there is some truth to that statement but also a huge gift in it too. Because we experience pain we can really know joy. Someone told me that living in joy was as simple as changing your mind. Really? That seemed awfully naive to me - just change your mind? Then why isn't everyone living in joy? Because it is a lot of work. A lot of work. And requires constant vigilance. And it takes a long time - you don't see the results as quickly as you do working out. Being on the low end of the patience spectrum I always wanted things to happen as soon as possible if not before. I lose interest in routine, constant prepartion and what I perceived to be the drudgery of every day life. And mastering those things felt like a huge waste of time. But they are foundation choices that give me somewhere to go. And I have been struggling with this same issue my entire life. This is my Galileo moment - my "get it right this lifetime" lesson.

I've started re-reading old journals so I can see that I have gotten better in this one aspect of my personal growth. I have made major strides. And there is still a long road to go. I have been really hard on myself most of my life - as I am sure a great many women are. And now I think that the best way to keep moving through my evolution is to be more gentle with myself. To accept those things I don't love about myself and those things I cannot change immediately. To live them openly and fully and not push them out of my mind. And with time I, we will all live our way into the answers.